Two literary works that have had the greatest impact on how we celebrate Christmas today are A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (also known as “The Night Before Christmas,” or “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) by Clement Clarke Moore. Although the poem was originally published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel in December of 1823, it was eventually attributed to Moore (1779-1863), a professor of Theology and Oriental and Greek Literature, who had written the poem a year earlier. Moore included the poem in an anthology titled Poems published in 1844. The poem is significant because it directly influenced the mythology of Santa Claus: the red suit, the bundle of toys, the eight flying reindeer (and their names) pulling a sleigh, filling the stockings with gifts, the smoking pipe, and entering and exiting the house through the chimney. Prior to Moore’s colorful depiction, Christians perceived St. Nicholas (Nicholas of Myra) as a tall, slender and rather stern Greek bishop. Dutch immigrants also depicted their equivalent of St. Nicholas, named Sinterklaas (Santa Claus), as a willowy bishop who rode a white horse. Despite issues of authorship (in 1999, some experts citing new evidence published their conclusions that Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828), an aspiring poet, actually wrote the poem about fifteen years earlier than Moore), the poem endures as a cherished tradition as parents read the poem to their children on Christmas eve as they anxiously await the magical visit of St. Nicholas. Bookshelf presents the classic poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas, by the numbers.
Number of words: 500
Number of reindeer: 8
First published in newspaper: 1823
First published in a book: 1844
Number of hand-written copies of poem: 4
Value of a hand-written copy: $280,000
Value of a first edition of Poems: $15,000
Number of editions of “The Night Before Christmas” owned by the Carnegie Mellon Hunt Library: 400
Number of results for “The Night Before Christmas” on Amazon: 18,306
Number of results for “The Night Before Christmas” on Google: 2.88 million
Number of results for “The Night Before Christmas” on Google Books: 76,700
Read related posts: The Story Behind “The Night Before Christmas”
The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
The Story Behind “The Night Before Christmas”
Words invented by Dickens
For further reading: Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous by Don Foster, Henry Holt (2000)
The World Encyclopedia of Christmas by Gerry Bowler, McClelland & Stewart (2000).
Diedrich Knickerbocker’s History of New York by Washington Irving, Easton Press (1980).